Would You Hire This Photographer? (The case for specialization…)

by Rohn Engh

Over the past thirty years, I have championed the proposition that specialization is the route to take for success in the field of stock photography. My detractors have grumbled, “Hey, you’re always harping on this.” Yes, it’s true. Specialization Because it’s at the heart of what works for the independent photographer, and a surprisingly large number of photographers lose years of their working life before they become convinced of the truth of it; if indeed they ever do. It’s been distressing to me to see so many excellent photographers lose their enthusiasm for stock photography over the years. The reason wasn’t that they didn’t have talent or good business sense, but because they tried to be “all things to all clients.” They didn’t specialize. They didn’t produce a deep selection of photos and knowledge in one (or a select few subject areas.) Now, thirty years later, hundreds of successful photographers are living proof of the success brought by specialization> In other disciplines as well: doctors, musicians, attorneys, the military and so on. To rise to the top of their prefession --the specialize.


The stock photographers who have turned out to be champions, are those who picked one topic, one area of stock photography expertise, a subject area that they loved photographing, and stuck with it. Their ‘brand’ is now widely known by the photo buying community. These photographers have built a deep treasury of excellent stock photography in their area of expertise. They have meshed their talent with markets that need the kind of photographs they’ve preffered as their brand. This concept of specialization is not contrary to business school advice. It goes all the way back to the birth of merchandising: Make an item for consumption that pleases you to produce, and determine if there’s a market out there. If by your research you find there is, GO FOR IT! Of course here, we’re talking about selling your photos, building wealth, and sharing your expertise. I’m addressing working photographers, not fine art photographers who might today be at the top level of fame, -- but tomorrow in the bottom level of the income scale. Is this idea of “specialization” outdated and “old school”? I came across a video featuring a contemporary working photographer interviewing an art director, that I think would be of great interest you. http://blog.chasejarvis.com/blog/2011/04/how-why-we-get-hired-interview-with-an-art-director/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+ChaseJarvis+%28Chase+Jarvis+Blog%29 The working photographer is Chase Jarvis, a well-known commercial photographer (www.chasejarvis.com). And the art/creative director is Jason Sutherland of the company, REI, (Seattle, WA). Here’s the interview. It’s a lesson in why specialization is so important to your success as a stock photographer. Notice how the words “authentic ” and “legit” are used in their conversation (at 03:28), and notice how an art director will expect you to know the mission of their brand. Also, notice how an art director would hope you had knowledge of their theme, their subject area, even before you started your stock photography career.

PHOTO: Chase Jarvis

Rohn Engh is the best-selling author of “Sell & ReSell Your Photos” and “sellphotos.com.” He has produced an eBook, “How To Make the Marketable Photo,” and an eCourse, “How To Market Your Photos.” For more information and to receive a free eReport: “8 Steps to Becoming Published Photographer,” visit http://www.sellphotos.com 800 624-0266.

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